Opal worker help



THE Victorian government is establishing a new Worker Support Service in the Latrobe Valley to help Opal Australian Paper employees at Maryvale facing stand-downs amid pulp wood supply shortages.

The state government has said it was working with Opal on pathways to defer any potential stand downs and redundancies for as long as possible beyond Christmas.

VicForests, which is responsible for the harvesting and sale of timber and regeneration of harvested forest, is also providing support payments to sawmills and contractors to ensure workers are retained and paid.

It comes after VicForests has halted logging after the Supreme Court ordered it to carry out better surveys and protections for endangered gliders, which has led to supply constraints at the Maryvale mill.

The Minister for Agriculture, Gayle Tierney, said the government knew timber supply was a current challenge.

“That’s why we will continue to invest and ensure workers and businesses are supported during this time,” Ms Tierney said.

“We will continue to engage with stakeholders on options to address timber shortages and source alternative supply.”

CFMEU manufacturing division national secretary, Michael O’Connor, welcomed the support and said it was important to mitigate the harm to workers and their families due to lack of wood supply.

“However, it is because of the shortages that we are in this situation. The government has had over two years to resolve the supply issues,” Mr O’Connor said.

“We have set out a number of measures the government can take to address wood shortages and we would urge the government to move quickly on them.”

Opal has warned it will either stop or reduce manufacturing white paper from December 23.

The company anticipated there will be temporary stand downs for some workgroups in January if it can’t find alternative wood fibre supplies.

Opal has told the state government there will be no immediate job losses at Maryvale before Christmas.

An Opal spokesperson said it was a complex situation and to be viable, the alternative supplies must match a range of strict criteria including species, availability, volume, cost, logistics and long-term supply.

“To date, suitable alternatives have not been identified, however we will continue to work through this process as quickly and thoroughly as we can,” the spokesperson said.

“This is a complex and ever-changing situation and no longer-term decisions on operational changes have been made at this stage.”

The Nationals’ Member for Eastern Victoria, Melina Bath, said the only actions that would secure jobs at the Maryvale Mill was for Labor to end the ongoing green lawfare by closing the loopholes in the Timber Code of Practice and reversing its diabolical decision to end sustainable native industry in Victoria.